Historical personalities of the Bank of Lithuania. Dovas Zaunius

2 October 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Bank of Lithuania and the first money — the litas. The establishment of the Issuing Bank of Lithuania, the issuance of litas banknotes, and the creation of the national monetary system is an event of epochal significance, as it was done for the first time in the history of the state of Lithuania. It is a great opportunity to remember the first bankers of independent Lithuania, people whose activities, patriotic feelings, and determined decisions have allowed Lithuania to become a modern, economically self-sufficient state. In this article, we present a Member of the Board of the Bank of Lithuania, the diplomat Dovas Zaunius. 

He was born in 1892 in Rokaičiai village (Lithuania Minor) in the family of one of the most famous characters of the national revival of the region. Zaunius, the youngest of nine children, studied at Tilžė Gymnasium and graduated in law from several German universities. During WWI, he joined the German army as a volunteer, and during the war found himself in Vilnius, where he stayed until the war ended. He immediately joined the cultural and political life of Lithuania, was appointed a judge of Kaunas city and county, and since 1919 he worked as an advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He quickly worked his way up the career ladder, became the governor of the Ministry, and soon led the Political Department. He contributed to the drafting of the Constituent Seimas Electoral Law. 

In 1920, Zaunius was appointed Lithuania’s envoy to Latvia (this service was very important because many diplomats of major countries resided in Latvia). Together with the Lithuanian delegation, he participated in negotiations with Latvia on borders, while with Soviet Russia — on the return of political prisoners and the possibility of concluding a peace treaty. He also led the Lithuanian delegation at the Helsinki Conference.

In 1923, Zaunius was appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, where he gained the President’s trust and strengthened ties between Lithuania and Czechoslovakia. In 1924, he received additional duties — to represent Lithuania’s interests in Romania under the title of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. 

In 1925, Zaunius worked in Geneva, and represented Lithuania in Switzerland and the League of Nations. A few years later, this office was liquidated and Zaunius returned to Lithuania, where he worked once again at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1928, he was Secretary General of the Ministry, and from 1929 — Minister of Foreign Affairs. He worked until 1934, and during that time achieved significant diplomatic victories (winning courts in The Hague against Poland, Germany, etc.). He was the longest-serving politician in interwar Lithuania.

Zaunius was awarded the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, other important Lithuanian and European awards (from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Sweden). 

Since 1934, Zaunius was a member of the State Council (he headed the Economic Commission of the Council). In 1935, he was admitted to the Society for Economic Studies, became a member of its board (although he did not have an economist’s education), and this experience probably was what brought him to the Bank of Lithuania. 

In 1936, Zaunius was elected to the Board of the Bank of Lithuania. At the same time, he was appointed a member of the Monetary Commission. He was the only representative of Lithuania Minor at the Bank of Lithuania. 

In addition to these serious duties, he contributed a lot to public life. He was a member of numerous societies, and an honorary member of the Riflemen’s Union. He was active in sports despite having a heart defect. He left this world quite young — Zaunius died in 1940 in Kaunas, at the age of 48.